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Scene in Detroit: The Heart That Still Beats

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(Photo: Amelia  Kanan)

(Photo: Amelia Kanan)

By Amelia Kanan, CBS Detroit Blogger

To a majority of the United States, Detroit is considered the armpit of America. It’s either that or unfathomably dangerous, desperate, broken beyond repair and dead. People at dinner parties in cities from New York to Los Angeles use Detroit as a punchline and conversational ice breaker.

These discussions end with looks of empathy and phrases like “Well, it’s just a shame.” And after a moment of awkward silence, the conversation moves on to something else, like the celebrity break up of the week. What scares me is that these conversations aren’t just happening outside of Michigan state lines, but in suburbs right next to Detroit.

Sure, the crime, education, vacancy of property and lack of funds are all statistics I can’t argue with. There are grassroots organizations and projects going on that are innovative but who knows what their outcome will be? I don’t want to talk about the change that’s happening, but rather the gems we have and the gold that still rushes through the veins of Detroit.

The Water: The Detroit River is not only a beautiful and calming sight, but a means for summer fun. Many Detroiters have grown-up sailing, boating, water skiing, kayaking, fishing and swimming thanks to this treasure. The river hasn’t only served this city with fun but it also brought success to many during a time when the nation struggled. Sure, it was illegal (smuggling alcohol into our country during Prohibition) but inventive, creative and historically monumental (that’s how we do).

History: Due to the Industrialization era, Detroit has been brought up on a work hard mentality, which makes its people ready to sweat, get dirty and earn their keep (which are characteristics that are, unfortunately, hard to find these days). Also since the early 1990s, the Mafia has paved roads of rebellion. Why is this important? Today, rebellion is what Detroiters are using to make the city successful, unique and innovative. Adjectives from Detroit’s history: invention, diversity, neighbors, French, Native American, opportunity, freedom and a gateway to the International world.

Biking: David Byrne from Talking Heads hailed Detroit as his most memorable city to cycle. For me, every time I bike in Detroit I get that same feeling I did when I was 8 years old and allowed to ride my bike to my friend’s house all by myself. The Dequindre Cut, landscape/scenery, lack of traffic and groups like DetroitSynerygy and Bike Detroit make it hard for you not to feel inspired to get on your pedal driving recreational vehicle.

Art: Not only is art bursting at the seams in Detroit today but it has also been the backdrop for noteworthy productions in art history. Beautiful pieces from Pewabic Pottery can be found in many U.S. landmarks as well in The Louvre in Paris. Diego Rivera thought his best work was done in Detroit.

Trees: Before Detroit lost an abundance of trees to Dutch Elm disease in 1950, it was nicknamed “The City of Trees”. Today, some Elm still exist but an abundance of different kinds of Maple, Black and White Ash, Oak, Beech, Hickory and Birch trees are just a few of the species that thrive within the city limits. Plus, thanks to The Greening of Detroit, the city is working on getting that nickname back. This past Saturday, The Greening of Detroit had 300 volunteers plant 200 tress in a local neighborhood!

Architecture: From buildings built from the late 1800s to the mid to late 1990s, there exists a spectrum of architectural styles from different eras.. A Romanesque church, exists within a Victorian styled neighborhood. Or a three-story store front with the Paris inspired Beaux-Arts facade that sits across from a Neo-Classical styled office building. If you don’t know about architecture and don’t have an interest, all you need to know is that these buildings were built with pride, care and strength things you don’t see in most structures built today.

People: Although I’ve mentioned the people influencing most of these gems of Detroit, I felt the people contribute significantly to the unique flavor of the city. Not only are they hard-working, strong, unafraid of failure but they are generous, empathetic and ready to have a good time. Who could ask for anything more?

Don’t worry, I’ll be back to expand on each of these elements of Detroit, but I felt the urgency to instill some pride, excitement, enthusiasm and energy for those who don’t get to see Detroit on a daily basis. I want you to know why you should be proud of where you’re from, the history behind you and what the city of Detroit is capable of achieving.

Amelia Kanan is freelance writer/photographer and a returning native of Detroit. A graduate of Columbia College in Chicago, she wrote for an Emmy nominated sketch comedy show and pursued her passion for documentary filmmaking in Los Angeles. An incomplete list of her loves: books, human rights, improv, the smell of new shoes, talking to strangers, libraries, France, yoga, furniture, music, sociology and pushing the limits. 

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